Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise to speak to this bill.
There are few responsibilities more important to government than ensuring the safety of the Canadian population while at the same time ensuring the protection of its rights as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This became a dominant theme in the last campaign, and we said that these two issues are not mutually exclusive. They are not things that are traded off against each other. They are things that must be considered equally and simultaneously, and both must be done with full force and effect.
What we see in Bill C-22 is the beginning of an effort to finally address some major problems we have within our security and intelligence framework, the biggest one being oversight.
I go back to my time on the other side of the aisle as critic for public safety and national security, and harken back to the reports of Justice Iacobucci and Justice O'Connor and the imperative nature of oversight in ensuring that our security and intelligence agencies are operating effectively and within the proper bounds of Canadian law. Unfortunately, over the last decade, despite many recommendations from parliamentary committees, these recommendations languished and were not acted upon, which meant that these key provisions were not put into effect.
Why is that required? Let us look at the fact that right now the oversight for our security and intelligence, if it exists, exists in silos. For example, the RCMP public complaints commission looks at the RCMP but is not able to follow evidence as it pertains to or deals with other agencies. CSIS has SIRC. To take the other extreme, the Canada Border Services Agency has no form of oversight.
Right now, the parliamentary committee, in an all-party way, is very effectively looking at our national security framework. A piece of the answer that we have seen in other jurisdictions and that has been talked about in many of the recommendations I spoke to earlier is the need to have a parliamentary committee made up of members of the House that would be able to follow information no matter where it goes. There may be a single incident involving intelligence that moves from the RCMP to the Canada Border Services Agency and that is also involved with immigration and many other agencies.
This new committee would have the power to look into all corners of security and intelligence. From the government's perspective, it was incredibly important to bring it in early and set it up. I am very encouraged that the bill is before the House, and I am anxious for this new committee to get to work.
Even before the committee saw this, experts rang in on the efficacy of what was proposed. Of course, we improved it, but it is a good idea to take a look at what some experts were saying about the state of the bill in its improvement, the leap forward that we made even prior to the amendments made at committee stage.
Craig Forcese, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa and a renowned expert in this area, said, “this will be a stronger body than the U.K. and Australian equivalents, and a dramatic change for Canadian national-security accountability”. He went on to call it “a good bill” and gave it “a high pass”.
His colleague Wesley Wark said, “I fully support Bill C-22”. He noted some improvements, but he basically issued a warning not to let perfect be the enemy of the good.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association supported the bill, saying, “This new accountability mechanism is crucial”.
In the media, there were many positive comments. The Toronto Star said that this is “an important first step toward accountability” and that it “would provide an essential check” on the security establishment. That was before the committee made its recommendations.
In the Commonwealth, we have gone much further. This is particularly noteworthy given the fact that the testimony the committee heard from the United Kingdom, for example, was to go slowly at the beginning because the committee, as it establishes itself and its work, needs to earn the trust of both the Canadian public and the institutions it is reviewing.
Notwithstanding that, we thought we would start aggressively, start ahead of everyone else in the Commonwealth, because we recognize, particularly with the dearth of action over the last decade, that there is an imperative nature to get these oversight mechanisms that had been ignored in place.
In the course of testimony, the committee did what it should do. It reviewed the material, heard from expert witnesses, and made a number of recommendations. The government was happy to get behind and support a number of those recommendations which are reflected in the bill that is before the House today. I will run through some of those quickly.
There is a whistle-blower clause requiring the committee to alert the appropriate minister and Attorney General if it uncovers something that may be illegal. There is a requirement that the annual report indicate where redactions have been made and why. The chair only votes to break ties; in other words, the chair does not have a double vote. It limits a minister's authority to determine that an examination would be injurious to national security and therefore outside the committee's mandate to ongoing operations, and requires the minister to alert the committee when the operation is no longer ongoing or when examining it would no longer pose a national security problem. Finally, it allows the committee access to information about ongoing defence intelligence activities in support of military operations, privileged information under the Investment Canada Act, and information collected by FINTRAC. That is all in the amendment to clause 14.
It can be seen that a great number of recommendations that were made by the committee were accepted by the government and are reflected in the bill. I think they are important improvements. They certainly go well beyond the standard that we see in any other Commonwealth country. I will come to an examination of those in a minute, but let us take a look quickly at some of the clauses that were rejected.
Reinserting in clause 14 giving information about human intelligence sources and witness protection was rejected, and I think for very sensible grounds. If somebody is in a witness protection program, as an example, we do not want to be sharing that name any more than is absolutely necessary. Even for the agencies that are sharing that information, not everybody in those agencies has access to it. We want to limit how much those names go out. That just makes prudent and good sense.
There is also restriction around information on ongoing law enforcement investigations. This is to avoid perceptions of political interference in an ongoing criminal investigation. This does not mean after the investigation that they cannot look into what has transpired to ensure that everything was as it should be, but when that matter is ongoing and current, certainly there is cause for concern around whether or not that would constitute interference and whether or not police would have to divert resources, to pull it off a case in order to work with the committee, so retrospectively instead of while it is ongoing.
Briefly I want to talk about some of the differences, because they are important, about Canada and some of our Commonwealth comparators. If we look at Britain, for example, in order to look beyond MI6, MI5, or GCHC, a memorandum of understanding is actually required between the committee and the Prime Minister. In Australia there is a limit strictly to statutory reviews of legislation and administration and expenses of particular agencies. It would actually be a parliamentary resolution or a ministerial referral to look at any other issue. It would require that level of depth, but that is not the case here. There are no such restrictions. There is the ability for the committee to look in every corner.
With respect to access to information, every single one of the Commonwealth partners, and I will not list them all but I can say the U.K., New Zealand, Australia and so forth, all put in restrictions around information sharing that deal with operational sensitivity and things that pose a threat to national security.
Much has been made of this, but the fact remains, obviously, that there needs to be the ability for the minister to protect national security when it is appropriate, and if there is a disagreement between the committee and the minister, then there is the ability for the committee to file a report of all the accumulated instances where they feel the government has not provided that information, and that could be aired publicly. Of course, that committee would have a very strong pulpit from which to speak.
The bottom line is that the bill is the beginning, an incredibly important first step on a journey ensuring we have appropriate oversight for our security intelligence framework. I look forward to this bill passing and for the work to come that we committed to in the platform.